Though Not Stated, The NHL Is Bursting At The Seams For An Expansion To 40 Teams Within Two Decades

After the failure of the last NHL expansion, probably due to the refusal of the investment world to accept a $500 million expansion fee, Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly stated that the NHL is not pursuing expansion at the present time. But right now he has got potential expansion proposals crawling out of the woodwork. Seattle is almost certain to become the 32nd NHL team which finally balances the conferences and makes realignment possible, and at least 3 almost certain expansion/relocation cities, Quebec City, Houston, and Hartford have expressed active interest in getting an NHL franchise. (I’ll deal with these individually later.)

As mentioned many times in other articles, as early as 2010 when Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission (fan base, proper arena, suitable ownership), the NHL was prepared to dramatically expand the league. At the time, the NHL had 30 teams, so their offer to readmit 3 cities meant that the NHL would have 33 teams, one more than the current 32 NFL limit. This amount of expansion implied that the NHL would also realign, probably into an NFL structure, though with 5 teams in each of the new 8 divisions, to the next symmetrical number of 40.

Unfortunately, an ownership crisis developed in Atlanta and Winnipeg had to be used to resolve the problem. Actually the NHL wanted an expansion team in Winnipeg, not a relocated Atlanta Thrashers. There is a similar problem today in Phoenix and a potential expansion city will probably have to be used to relocate the Coyotes. With the admission of Seattle, the problem of balancing the conferences is at last solved. It is easy to predict future NHL expansion: There will be four new eastern and four new western teams added (though there is the possibility of Nashville being shifted east) until the 40 team mark is reached.

Commissioner Bettman could not be more delighted at the way things are turning out for him; even his new Seattle investors have upped his expansion fee to $650 million. But at least one city is going to get a bargain-basement relocated team at less price and there are still lots of issues to be resolved.

1. There are lots of rumors about an arena crisis in Calgary. Actually it is about a pouty Flames ownership that wants its cake and eat it too. They want a new arena built (at taxpayer expense, not themselves paying for it) simply because the Saddledome is over 3 decades old. But the Saddledome is actually one of the larger (over 19,000 seats) and better arenas in the NHL. Just what is wrong with it, the Flames ownership won’t say. If they laid out what is inadequate, probably a cheaper renovation could be negotiated. Meanwhile the Flames ownership makes relocation threats, knowing full well that the Saddledome could probably carry them for at least another decade without any problems. Nobody wants to tear down the 86 year old Empire State Building. By accepting Seattle with its renovated 55 year old arena, how can the NHL refuse a cheaper offer of renovating the 34 year old Saddledome instead of building a costly and maybe unnecessary new arena? The only true NHL arena problem is in Phoenix.

2. The only thing stopping Quebec from getting a team is the ownership factor. The local Quebec market is now over 800,000 and the entire market stretching west half way to Montreal and also including all eastern Quebec, plus the 4 Maritime provinces is several million. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena and gave it its blessing by awarding a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there. So the only objectionable factor is the owner. Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his public racist comments about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, his support of the Quebec separatist political party, and his general untrustworthiness. At the recent Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was seen publicly with Gary Bettman many times but Peladeau was as usual nowhere in sight. A suitable ownership bid from Quebec City means that the Nordiques return to the NHL tomorrow. Quebec is a prime candidate for the relocated Coyotes and it would not be surprising if the Coyotes come at the same time as two more western expansion cities (one probably Houston) get added to the league.

3. Since the NHL is ready to accept an old renovated arena in Seattle (55 years old) instead of a new arena, there should be no objections to Hartford renovating the XL Center which is 41 years old. The Seattle project at least is highly dubious because it will produce an arena that will make it the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL. For the money that they are planning to spend, it would be better if Seattle built a new, modern arena instead. The Hartford renovation must increase the seating capacity of the XL Center.

4. Bettman could not be more delighted that the Houston Rockets of the NBA were sold and now the market has a friendly arena owner in Tilman Fertitta. The NHL has long wanted Houston in the league to be a rival for Dallas and has regretted turning down the bungled attempt by the WHA Aeros in the 1970s to get in. Houston is the largest American city without NHL hockey and it is only a matter of time now, like Seattle, before it gets its franchise. Probably Bettman is only waiting for the token Seattle approval process to conclude before making a formal Houston expansion announcement. Given Bettman’s new policy of negotiating NHL expansion secretly instead of the traditional way of announcing a competition for expansion that failed so miserably last time when the NHL could only get Las Vegas, it might not be inaccurate to conclude that Houston has already been secretly accepted, a “done deal” like the ones that were being proclaimed on the Internet and in the press before the last expansion was announced.

5. The happiest development for Bettman is what the new Seattle expansion means. During the last disastrous Las Vegas expansion, the investment world told him and his $500 million expansion fee to take a hike. But the breach in the wall by Seattle gives Bettman the last laugh. He can now expand the NHL to 40 teams and who knows what the final expansion fee for the 40th team might be? Thanks to Seattle, he and the NHL are getting their cake and eating it too.

What are my predictions? The NHL is on its way to becoming a 40 team league within the next two decades in a realigned NFL structure, the only difference being that each division will have 5 teams instead of 4. There will be a few stopping points along the way. Right now I think this initial phase of expansion will temporarily halt at 34 teams before resuming once the new franchises get settled and consolidated. That means that Houston, if they find a suitable owner will be the next NHL team, and Quebec City, keeping the existing Arizona ownership which means Pierre Karl Peladeau is finally out of the picture, will get the Coyotes. Since the NHL wants to keep 2 balanced conferences, the only mystery is what other western American city will be Houston’s expansion partner. My guess is it will be one of Portland, San Diego, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. And our behind-the-scenes man, Bettman has already been negotiating with at least one of them, waiting to proclaim their chance, along with Houston to apply for an NHL franchise once the token Seattle approval process is finished.

Then after a few years the NHL will accept Hartford’s renovated arena and be forced to grit its teeth and tell the Calgary Flames to make some terms about a Saddledome renovation. By then other cities will be even more hungry for an NHL team. In Canada, once the Quebec City situation is cleared up, the next city will be second southern Ontario (probably Hamilton) or second Montreal. Whoever are the three western American city losers will be even more ripe for the taking. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building new arenas but they may be too small and too basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Saskatoon and Spokane are long term possibilities.

And NHL expansion will have repercussions outside of the league. MLB, envious and admiring at what the NHL doing, can’t wait to make Montreal and Portland its next expansion cities. And the NBA, also wanting to reach at least 32 teams and realign won’t be long following the other two leagues. For them, Seattle is the obvious western choice but they have to like what they are seeing in NHL Las Vegas. Perhaps a four team NBA expansion is on the horizon.

There may be other surprise bidders for an NHL team, right now unforseen. The only thing for certain is that a 40 team NHL within two decades is on the table. The questions to be settled are who, where, when, how much, and in what order.

 

As Predicted: The Carolina Hurricanes Aren’t Coming To Quebec City Or Hartford

The sale of the Carolina Hurricanes by Peter Karmanos to Tom Dundon means that at least for a while, the Hurricanes won’t be coming to either Quebec City or Hartford. Despite rumors that have arisen over the past few years, this writer at least has been steadfast in believing that the Hurricanes will stay in North Carolina despite the noticeable drop in attendance.

The main reason for the drop is not that hockey has become unpopular in North Carolina but because Carolina hasn’t iced a competitive team for almost a decade. During Karmanos’s last years, the Hurricanes declined from the peak of winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. The last sparkle was the Hurricanes getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. Since then the Hurricanes could usually be found among the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. No wonder attendance dropped off.

But if Dundon shows the same kind of competence that Bill Foley is showing in Las Vegas, there is no reason to believe that the fans won’t come back. Like the New York Islanders, who have struggled with attendance and arena problems since their peak years in the early 1980s, winning the Stanley Cup can go a long way to get a franchise to survive during tough times. The memory of winning seasons, can cause ex-attendee fans to remember back to the glory years and long for a champion again. Winning the Stanley Cup even once starts a championship tradition.

Certainly NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes in the power of a Stanley Cup victory. He was in attendance when Dundon was introduced, an open signal that he still believes in the Carolina market. Such optimism is completely missing in his two remaining trouble spots, Florida and especially Phoenix where no Stanley Cup banners hang in the local arena. A huge reason for the unpopularity of the Coyotes in Arizona is that they have only iced a competitive team once in their entire history. That’s not true in Carolina. The real danger sign that would threaten the franchise is if the Hurricanes start icing playoff teams again and the fans still don’t return.

Dundon is in a good situation to take over. The Hurricanes are starting to be competitive again. Currently, they have at least a 50% chance of making the playoffs this year and for sure baring injury, of at least being competitive for the last playoff positions. What they really need in this market are star players who are box office draws. The Hurricanes are mostly no-names. Even if they miss the playoffs again this year, a good draft in Dallas and some astute trades could capture the imagination of hockey fans in Raleigh again.

As for Quebec and Hartford, despite the rumors over the past few years, they should now consider getting the Hurricanes to relocate to be a closed book, at least for now. What Hartford should be doing is trying to find a suitable investor like Foley and Dundon to front a Hartford bid for an NHL expansion franchise and coming to a final settlement about the Hartford arena problem. Both the mayor and the governor of Connecticut want the Whalers back as a key to reviving Hartford as a vibrant city. Hartford with a proper NHL arena and a suitable owner would be a winner, a sure money maker.

For Quebec, losing the Hurricanes relocation option simply narrows down the choices to get its beloved Nordiques back. Before proceeding any further, Quebec City fans should take note of this Dundon/Hurricanes press conference as another signal of the real reason why they don’t have the Nordiques back. Note that Commissioner Bettman was there in person, in whole-hearted support of Tom Dundon. Since when has he ever been seen in the company of the openly racist Pierre Karl Peladeau? The NHL loves the Quebec market and its brand new Videotron arena but wants nothing to do with the pro-separatist, would-be Nordiques owner Peladeau, who made inappropriate racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, and has built up a stack of enemies on the NHL Board of Governors.

I’ve advanced the idea in other articles on this blog that Quebec’s best chance of getting the Nordiques back quickly would be if the NHL accepts the current Seattle bid, then adds two other Western Conference expansion teams, and then shifts the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec. This kills two birds with one stone. With the horrible team, the Coyotes are currently icing, there is no way they are going to get public money for building a new downtown Phoenix arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns want nothing to do with the Coyotes about building a new facility. Shifting the Coyotes out of Phoenix where they have no future to Quebec gets the NHL out of a hostile market and at the same time gets the unsuitable Peladeau out of the picture.

In support of this theory, the Seattle bid could not be more welcome for Quebec. So is the news that Houston wants to actively pursue getting an NHL franchise. It only remains to find a third western city that wants an NHL team. Unless some suitable French Canadian bidder who has been hiding in the shadows appears, at least for now, that is probably the best way the Nordiques will return to Quebec. But Carolina is now a dead issue. Hartford and Quebec have to look elsewhere.

 

What’s In Store For Hockey In 2018?

In my last article, I listed 20 significant events for hockey that occurred in 2017. There could be some significant events for 2018 that will affect the NHL and international hockey long term. Here are some that will happen for sure or maybe happen.

1.    Approve New Seattle NHL Franchise As Soon As Possible

This is a no-brainer, a for-sure event. Unless something absolutely catastrophic happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. The NHL has been actively wanting Seattle for over half a decade and now with the renovation of the Key Arena and the appearance of Bruckheimer and Bonderman, it has finally come to pass. The faster this token “approval process” is over, the better for the NHL. Nothing is completely certain but for this to happen in 2018, my Predictability Rating is 99.9%.

2.     The NHL Realigns Into An NFL Structure

This will depend on how fast the NHL approves the Seattle bid. The way the unwieldy conference structure is right now is interesting but confusing for the fans and everybody else. Realigning into the easy to understand NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 Divisions of 4 teams with a revised playoff structure makes things easier for everybody to follow. To get to 32 teams for minimum realignment was one of the main reasons the NHL accepted an almost for sure Seattle bid. It also makes it easier to keep expanding the league to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). As I’ve said in too many articles to count, there are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada (and growing all the time) so the NHL, the NBA, MLB, and the NFL are only a fraction of the size they could be. There are only two questions concerning NHL Realignment. First, will they announce it in 2018 which depends on how fast they officially approve Seattle? Second, since the NHL seems intent on becoming a 40 team league, will any other expansion cities be on board before they officially announce it? Predictability Rating: 80%.

3.     Houston Is Granted An NHL Franchise

This too is probably a “done deal” and again it depends on how fast the NHL approves Seattle. They will probably want to officially approve Seattle first before moving on to new expansion issues. The NHL is not in any hurry to get Houston in the league though it is an almost for-sure action, but they might be a bit anxious to get their hands on more expansion money which will be at least as much as Seattle if not higher. Predictability Rating: 60%.

4.     An Active Hartford Expansion Bidder Will Appear

Hartford has approved a $250 million expansion/renovation of its XL Arena to 19,000 seats. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them three terms for readmission to the NHL (Great fan base [no problem for all three cities]; A proper NHL arena; Acceptable ownership). Winnipeg was used to solve the Atlanta crisis and Quebec has been actively knocking at the door (see its situation listed below). Most likely the NHL will accept Hartford’s arena renovation plans just like they will approve Seattle’s renovation. So that just leaves the ownership problem to be resolved. Hartford made an active attempt to woo the New York Islanders by relocation which has now officially failed because the Islanders will get a new Long Island arena built. So the problem has become finding a rich investor, anxious to get into the NHL. Hartford with a proper arena is a sure money maker like Seattle so somebody is bound to appear though not necessarily this year. Predictability Rating: 40%.

5.     Another Western City Will Be Granted An NHL Franchise

There are lots of cities out west that the NHL would like see enter the league besides Houston. Milwaukee and San Francisco are already building new arenas though they might be too NBA basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Spokane and Saskatoon are long term possibilities. Right now the best possibilities are in Portland, San Diego, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City. Why would the NHL which will accept Seattle for sure and likely approve a serious Houston bid want yet another western city which will tilt league conference imbalance even further? So that the following can happen… Predictability Rating: 30%

6.     Resolution Of The Quebec and Arizona Problems

There is very little chance of the citizens of Phoenix approving a new downtown arena for the Coyotes. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns has declined to go into partnership for a new arena and instead further insulted the Coyotes by renovating its own arena to make it more basketball friendly. At the same time the NHL wants Quebec back in the league, loves the fan base now grown to over 800,000, and the new Videotron arena which they have rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal Canadiens preseason games, but cannot accept the current bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active, pro-separatist potential politician who made public, inappropriate, racist comments about the Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson and is considered too untrustworthy to ever be granted an expansion franchise. The NHL does not want to reject Quebec outright so their current status is officially listed as “deferred”. So moving the unpopular Coyotes to Quebec and adding two more western expansion cities is the obvious solution. This could happen… or it could not. There are other ways of getting more expansion money such as accepting Houston and Hartford now and postponing the Quebec/Phoenix problem still further. But adding Houston and another western city now and at the same time shifting the Coyotes to Quebec to get Peladeau out of the picture makes the most sense. It kills two birds with one stone. It adds two more western expansion fees plus any relocation fee the NHL might want to charge the Coyotes. Predictability Rating: 30%

7.     Pyeongchang Olympics NHL Player Participation Crisis

 

It is all quiet now but in recent years, several players (most notably Alexander Ovechkin) have said that they want to play for their countries in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. The self-indulgent snobs of the United States and Canada using shallow excuses pulled the NHL out of the Olympics but said they might return in the future. This is clearly an insulting act against South Korea. One of the reasons that the NHL cites for its decision is that Pyeongchang is in a time zone that won’t attract North American television viewers. But the next Winter Olympics will be in China which is in the same time zone or worse, but the Chinese market is over 1 billion people which the NHL wants to exploit… not like “lowly” South Korea which “only” has a market of 50 million. The insulting, laughable hypocrisy of pulling out of South Korea only to go back into China shows the usual ignorance and disrespect of American businessmen and politicians. But a lot of people including many current NHL players, some of which are Americans themselves, consider the Olympics to be a “higher” event, worthy of more respect and reverence than the NHL is showing. As January moves along, the issue of NHL player participation is going to come to the fore. This has never occurred before so nobody knows what the outcome will be. There will probably be some kind of crisis, but nobody knows how big. Predictability Rating: 75%.

8.     South Korea NHL Hockey Embarrassment

The NHL has officially pulled out of the Pyeongchang Olympics but the South Koreans may yet get the last laugh. They have improved their national team hockey program from almost nothing and are now so good, they won their World Hockey Championship Division level last year and got promoted to the top level this year when they will make their debut against “big 7″ competition for the first time. What a thing to happen for poor Bettman, just when he pulled the NHL out of Pyeongchang. Probably what everybody predicts is that the South Koreans, faced with tougher competition will lose every game and then be demoted back to the lower division with a pat on the back for improving so much. But if they do anything significant (even horrors! winning a medal!) and manage to stick around at the top level from now on, what’s Bettman and the NHL going to do? Will he be forced to invite them to be participants in the next World Cup of 2020? What a great way to promote the growth of international hockey which Bettman has stated he wants to do. Pulling the NHL out of Pyeongchang snubs a potential new, major NHL market of 50 million people. Everybody cheer for the South Koreans. Predictability Rating: Impossible to predict because nobody knows how good the upstart South Korean team will play against top competition for the first time. The prediction rating should be low… but almost everybody said that Canada would sweep the unknown USSR back in 1972 and look what happened. Anybody who wants to see international hockey grow should be cheering for South Korea in May.

I’ve just made predictions about the major long term issues that could affect hockey. There are others that could be addressed. The improvement of the quality of play in international hockey is probably the most important issue to be resolved if hockey is to expand world wide, but the likelihood of seeing anything positive done by the NHL and the international powers that be is probably 0% in 2018. Getting Hamilton or another southern Ontario team into the NHL should be a priority but nothing will be done. I have also refrained from commenting on the arena issues in Calgary, San Diego, and Ottawa.

And I have not bothered to predict on short term issues like who will win the World Junior Championships, possible major NHL trades, who will make the Stanley Cup playoffs and who will win the Stanley Cup. For now I’ll leave that to others or for later. The resolution of the eight issues I have listed will make 2018 a significant year for hockey.

 

All Hartford Needs Is A Suitable Owner And They Are Back In The NHL

In the fallout of the news that Seattle will get an NHL team (Technically they are still not accepted, but the NHL is not going to refund a $650 million expansion fee. Accepting Seattle is a mere formality now.), there are many repercussions that have occurred. In this article, I’ll explore what this means for Hartford.

Seattle’s admission is good news for Hartford. Before explaining why, let’s recap. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their teams back in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and offered them terms for readmission. There were three reasonable factors that he wanted met. (No mention of any expansion fee whether $500 million or $650 million.) These were an adequate fan base (which all three have), a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner.

The fact that the NHL wanted all three cities back meant that the size of the NHL would grow from 30 to 33 teams, one more than the 32 team limit the NFL had. Expansion to 32 teams would mean that the NHL could realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, each having 4 divisions, and the 33rd team meant that the NHL was not going to stop at the NFL limit but keep expanding, probably to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams, meaning 8 divisions with 5 teams in them. Unfortunately, an ownership crisis in Atlanta occurred and Winnipeg had to be used to solve it. The Jets are back leaving Quebec and Hartford to try to return too.

The most important piece of good news for Hartford by Seattle’s readmission is that NHL has said they will accept renovated old arenas instead of building new ones. The Key Arena in Seattle is 55 years old and its dubious renovation costing $600 million will create a hockey arena that will be the third smallest in the NHL for seating capacity (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena). If the NHL can accept Seattle’s renovation, they should have no problem with Hartford renovating a 41 year old arena that will have over 19,000 seats.

That leaves the third factor, finding a suitable owner. To explain how important is this factor, let’s return to the Quebec situation. Quebec has an acceptable fan base and the NHL loves the new Videotron arena which they rewarded with an exhibition World Cup game and Montreal preseason exhibition games every year. But Quebec does not have the third factor, an acceptable owner. The owner of the prospective bidder, Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau, has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his offensive racist statements about a Board member, his support of a political separatist party, and his general untrustworthiness. Quebec will not get the Nordiques back until he is gone and an acceptable owner makes a bid. This situation should be a valuable lesson for Hartford and all future NHL expansion teams.

So besides having deep pockets, a future Hartford Whalers owner has to be morally/socially acceptable and hopefully with no political ambitions. He/she has to be a sound businessman/woman who will put the team and the NHL first. So far in public at least, nobody has stepped forward and offered to front a Hartford bid

The Connecticut governor and the Hartford mayor have tried their own hand at recruiting an owner. They knew the New York Islanders were having arena problems and wrote a letter to the Islander ownership and management, offering them the updated XL Center if nothing is done and their arena crisis cannot be solved. Right now, the Islanders are awaiting a decision within the next six months about whether a new arena will be built for them in the Belmont area. If a new arena is constructed there, any chance of the Islanders becoming the Whalers is over.

The NHL would prefer the Belmont option because they want to keep the Islanders with their glorious history. And a Hartford expansion team means another large expansion fee. So Hartford and Connecticut officials should also be talking to other businessmen, not necessarily from the Hartford area, who are interested in owning an NHL franchise. The Whalers should be a good investment. Like Winnipeg and Quebec, Hartford with a proper arena should be a winner, a sure money maker.

The NHL is striving to become a 40 team league. There are now eight franchise positions still available, four in the east and four in the west. In 2010, the NHL made an unofficial commitment to Hartford if they meet their three factors, so the door is wide open for them to return. Hartford will soon have two of the three factors solved. If they can find a suitable owner who will make a bid, Hartford could be back in the NHL within half a decade.

 

NHL: The Obvious Solution: Move The Coyotes To Quebec And Expand By Three Western Cities

Before going into specifics, here is a list of four of the main problems that are currently oppressing the NHL:

1.      The Arizona Coyotes are virtually dead in the area unless they get a new arena which the ownership does not want to pay for and neither the state nor the municipal authorities want to finance. To rub it in further, the NBA Phoenix Suns have said they would rather upgrade their current arena and make it more basketball friendly than share it again with the Coyotes or go halfsies with them on a new arena. The NHL’s dream of a Phoenix franchise may soon be over.

2.      The NHL wants Quebec City back in the league, loves the fan base/market and the new arena, but cannot abide the potential bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau who has made many enemies on the NHL Board, has made public, inappropriate racial remarks about a Board member, supports a separatist provincial political party and is generally untrustworthy. Except for the ownership problem, Quebec would probably have a team by now.

3.     Though it has not been stated publicly, the NHL wants to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions, each with 4 teams. Not only does this make things easier to follow for the fans, but it allows the NHL to expand easily in the future to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 and 48 teams. There are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in North America right now so there will not be any problem finding potential new markets in the future. The last expansion was a humiliating failure when the NHL only got Las Vegas when they probably wanted Quebec (with a suitable owner) and three western cities. 31 teams is no better the previous awkward 30.

4.      The NHL has to find a way to straighten out its expansion process. For the last expansion, they set a fee of $500 million which the investment world found unacceptable. The NHL got no competition between rival cities for a franchise and had to settle for only Las Vegas, probably the worst expansion in “big 4″ North American sports leagues history. Something has to give. Either the investment world accepts a $500 million expansion fee or the NHL must set a more realistic lower fee which may mean refunding some money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner. And if neither side will budge, the NHL could be stuck at the awkward, unacceptable 31 team mark for a long time, maybe decades and more.

The obvious solution to some of these problems is to finally admit defeat in establishing an NHL franchise in Phoenix, transfer the team with the same ownership to Quebec and then announce expansion again, focusing on two western cities to balance up the conferences so that the league can realign. The NHL of course wants to have its cake and eat it too. To them, the ideal solution is to get enough Phoenix fans to finally make a Phoenix NHL franchise feasible, including a willingness to spend public finances on yet another new downtown arena; for a suitable Quebec City owner to finally appear, complete with a cheque for $500 million who will then be granted the returned Nordiques franchise; and for the investment world to graciously accept a $500 million expansion fee without any objections, prompting two western cities to join Quebec in bidding for an NHL franchise so that the league can finally realign.

Alas, such ideal dreams have yet to materialize. To break down the list of problems that are thwarting the NHL’s ideal solution:

1.      After rejecting the proposed Quebec owner, the Quebec bid has been officially “suspended” indefinitely by the NHL. For a whole year, there has not been any solution offered and since finding a suitable owner is being done behind closed doors, it is difficult to determine if any progress has been made. No new owner (preferably a French Canadian Quebecer) has appeared in 2017 any more than one appeared in 1995 when Quebec lost its team. And if Quebec does have to get its team back by franchise shift like Winnipeg, will the fans and the powers that be accept an owner who may not speak a word of French?

2.      Other eastern cities as well as western ones may want an NHL franchise. Hartford, to whom the NHL has made the same unofficial commitment as to Quebec wants to update its old arena by $250 million and openly solicited the owners of the New York Islanders to become a returned Hartford Whalers. And Hamilton is willing to spend $50 million to update Copps Coliseum if the NHL will finally tell Toronto and Buffalo to set some reasonable compensation terms. This of course will upset the balance between the two conferences even further but it is a minor problem. Expand now, realign, and then balance up the conferences later.

3.      More serious for Hartford and Seattle is whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas instead of brand new ones. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged municipal officials to build a brand new arena. The pouty Flames ownership has indulged in “or else” talk about building a new arena instead of accepting a cheaper renovation of the 34 year old Saddledome. But if the NHL cannot accept a renovated 34 year old arena, how can they accept what Seattle and Hartford propose to do on older buildings?

4.      After the humiliating last expansion, the NHL has yet to announce what its future expansion fee will be. For now, expansion is a dead issue, but unless the league expands, it cannot realign.

If the idealized NHL dream listed above cannot be realized, what should the NHL do? Bettman made an unofficial commitment to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford back in 2010 by giving them terms for readmission (fan base, arena, owner) and openly encouraged the Quebec provincial and municipal governments to keep building their new arena despite knowing that the proposed Quebec owner was unsuitable. He can hardly urge a city and a province to spend $375 million tax dollars and not give them anything. Similarly, Hartford and Seattle propose to spend nearly $1 billion tax dollars on renovations between them. He and his Flames ownership supporters will have to climb down on their “new arena or else” stand and accept reasonable renovations to the Saddledome or else tell Hartford and Seattle that they have spent nearly $1 billion tax dollars for nothing.

Here are a few possible alternative policies besides staying stagnant at present.

1.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec but does not realign or expand.

This is the minimum that can be done and at least solves the two worst problems. The NHL’s unofficial commitment to Quebec is resolved and the Phoenix problem is (not without some humiliation) finally settled. One half of Bettman’s Canadian critics disappear. The disadvantage is that realignment and conference balancing get postponed and that the NHL won’t get a $500 million expansion fee from Quebec. There is also the problem of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners.

2.      NHL moves Arizona to another western city and does not expand.

This solves the Phoenix problem but nothing more. It keeps things as they are though the Coyotes will now be in (hopefully) a more hockey friendly city with a good arena. But it does not solve the Quebec, realignment, or conference balance problems. Nor does it get any expansion fee money.

3.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec and expands by three western cities.

This solves all four problems. It means that the Quebec and Phoenix problems disappear and only the question of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners remains. (Most likely they will. Only the racists will be discontented.) It means that the NHL can realign and that the conferences will be balanced. It means that the NHL has got some amount of expansion fee from somebody, but not from Quebec. It means that either the NHL has set an expansion fee which the investment world finds acceptable (probably meaning a refund of some expansion money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner), or that the investment world has finally accepted a $500 million NHL expansion fee. And if Hamilton and Hartford also want to get an NHL franchise too, so what. The league can still realign, collect more expansion fee money, and balance the conferences through more expansion later. That’s a minor problem that can be postponed.

The only thing that is known for sure is that the present situation is unacceptable. The awkward 31 teams are no better than the previous 30. By its failed attempt to bring back Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford via expansion, the NHL has indicated that it is not content to just expand to the current NFL structure of 32 teams, but wants to at least reach the next symmetrical number in such a structure of 40 teams, meaning 5 teams to a division.

Certainly the NHL is going to be focusing on getting western expansion cities to match a shift of the Coyotes to Quebec. Just for fun here are (in my opinion) the best western cities for the NHL to expand to. I’ve listed them in some of my previous articles. Feel free to comment or make other suggestions.

Best Choices:

Seattle

Portland

Milwaukee

Saskatoon (now or long term)

Spokane (now or long term)

 

Other Cities Worth Taking A Chance On:

Houston

Oklahoma City

San Francisco

Salt Lake City

Second Chicago

Kansas City

 

Rumored Other Cities:

San Diego

 

Calgary, Hartford, Hamilton And Seattle All Now Lumped Together Under One Big Arena Mess

Ho Ho Ho! NHL (and other North American sport leagues) hypocrisy rides again. It centers about the issue of building sports arenas and stadiums and who should pay for them. In this year where the jolly old arrogant NFL stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their franchises just to please Los Angeles, a city that snubbed them for two decades, and plans to do the same to Oakland in the near future, we find four cites who either have or want an NHL franchise suddenly bound together on the issue of a new arena. It seems strange that we can lump all these diverse cities together but the issue is the same. And there is the same blackmail, lies, taxpayer burden, and hypocrisy tainting all four locations.

Calgary

It all starts in Calgary where the Flames ownership have engaged in “or else talk” to get a new arena built to replace the 34 year old Saddledome. On the table is a proposed combined NHL-CFL project (arena-stadium) called “Calgary Next” that will cost either $890 million (the proposers) or nearly $2 billion (the realists). Just to let everyone know where the NHL stands on this issue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary earlier this year and urged the municipal powers that be to accept it. He loves new arenas like the ones in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Detroit. He wants new ones built in Phoenix and Ottawa too.

But when you can’t agree on the real cost of a major project, it is not wise to start building until you get all the answers. Remember Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Skydome? They soared to $1 billion and $500 million before they were finished. Calgary officials and taxpayers have every reason to ask questions and proceed cautiously.

More importantly for this article, just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It has been renovated once and with over 19,000 seats, it is one of the bigger and better arenas in the NHL. Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL have specified what they are dissatisfied with and what has to be changed. All that’s been stated is that the building is too old at 34 years (How come the Empire State Building, etc. is still standing?) and if they don’t get their way, the Flames will consider moving. Perhaps if they would state what is wrong with the Saddledome, a much cheaper renovation could be made. But taking their cue from the arrogant NFL, the Flames ownership have issued a veiled “or else” ultimatum to try to blackmail the city and its taxpayers. They of course want nothing to do with building a new arena by themselves.

The Flames want to move because of the mere age of the building. But right now in Hartford and Seattle, officials plan to spend $250 million and $564 million to renovate a 41 year old building and a 55 year old building so that they can get an NHL franchise. And a few years ago, when Jim Balsille was vainly trying to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, its officials voted to spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to the current NHL median seating of 18,500. The Coyotes of course never came so the renovations were never made.

But if the NHL and the Flames can’t accept a 34 year old renovated Saddledome, how can the NHL accept the renovations of the XL Center and the Key Arena? If I’m a municipal official in Hartford and Seattle, acting responsibly on behalf of my taxpayer voters, I want to get something tangible for my money and that means a certain NHL franchise and nothing less. I don’t want to spend $250 million and $564 million and be told by the NHL that the changes made are unacceptable. I want answers right NOW before I spend a single penny. I’m not going to spend that amount of cash and get nothing to show for it. I want a straight and honest answer from the NHL. Are you going to accept a renovated “old” building or not? And if the answer is no, I’m not spending anything.

Seattle

There are other questions that should be answered right now, starting with seating capacity. That’s not an issue in Calgary and won’t be one in Hamilton or Hartford where the seating will be raised to 18,500 and 19,000. But it sure is one in Seattle. The proposed $564 million renovation will mean a seating capacity of only 17,100, making it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders who have just stated that if they get a favorable ruling, they intend to build a brand new arena at Belmont Park. Seattle’s “improved” renovated arena will be over a thousand seats less than the NHL median. And back to Hamilton, that’s less than the current seating capacity of Copps Coliseum which the NHL claims is unacceptable. The best this renovation can do is build a stopgap arena. Is this renovation really worth doing at that cost?

And most importantly, there’s the cost issue. As noted above, the weaselly Flames ownership doesn’t want to spend a single cent on a new arena but engages in veiled blackmail instead. If NHL hockey was not so important to Calgary, I’d show the door to the Flames ownership right now. I’m not going spend a single penny on either “Calgary Next” or just a new NHL arena until I know the true cost of building one. And if a much cheaper renovation of the Saddledome is more appropriate, that’s what I’ll do.

Hamilton

And for Hamilton, Hartford, and Seattle I’ve got some other questions. How come it only costs Hamilton $50 million to make Copps Coliseum an acceptable arena while it costs Hartford $250 million and Seattle $564 million for the same thing? How come it cost Las Vegas and Quebec City only $375 million to build a new arena while it has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million and the $564 million for just renovations in Seattle? I want answers NHL, and I want them NOW.

Hartford

So where do I stand on these issues?

Calgary:

I want to know just what the Flames ownership says is wrong with the Saddledome and if it is feasible, renovate the building again. I’ll only consider “Calgary Next” or other schemes if renovating the Saddledome is not feasible. And before I spend any money, I want to know the true cost of any new arena/stadium. If the Flames ownership is still not satisfied, I’d reluctantly show them the door. It would be just as damaging for them and the NHL to leave Calgary as it will be for the city.

Hamilton:

Stop kicking this city around NHL. Tell them that you will award them an expansion franchise based on the $50 million renovation. And tell Toronto and Buffalo to spell out reasonable compensation terms like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. This city should have been given a team long ago.

Hartford:

First I want to know if the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center or not. If they do, I will proceed with the $250 million renovation though I do want to know why Hamilton can renovate its arena so much more cheaply. If the NHL will not accept the renovation, I want to know why Quebec and Las Vegas can build acceptable arenas that are over $100 million less than the estimated cost of a proposed new Hartford arena. And when I get satisfactory answers for both the costs of renovation and building a new arena, I’ll proceed on that basis.

Seattle:

Scrap the renovation project. For the money they are willing to spend, tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new modern one on the site that has proper seating. And because the NBA will always have more seats in an arena than the NHL, build a new arena to get an NHL team first. The NBA will automatically be satisfied.

I want Calgary to keep its team and I want the other three cities plus Quebec into the NHL as soon as possible. But not at the cost of giving into blackmail and spending public tax dollars wastefully. To repeat, these cities want truthful answers NOW, NHL and they expect you to honor your word. They don’t want to be lied to in this day and age, when it is too late to turn back and leagues like the NFL are making suckers out of loyal fans and their public officials. They want something to show for their money, an NHL team playing in an acceptable arena. I don’t think that is too much to expect.

 

Hartford Should Get An NHL Guarantee Before Spending

After two decades of doing nothing, it was announced earlier this year that the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut would spend $250 million to upgrade the 41 year old XL Center to 19,000 seats in hopes of getting back the lost Hartford Whalers. The intention of the Mayor and the Governor are plain. They even sent a letter to the owners of the New York Islanders who have arena problems, inviting the Islanders to solve their arena mess by leaving Brooklyn and becoming the reborn Hartford Whalers once the XL Center is renovated.

But is Hartford doing the right thing? Are they spending $250 for nothing? Why should this question be raised at all? Because of what is going on in Calgary.

Out west, the 19,000 seat Saddledome, one of the biggest arenas in the NHL is 34 years old, seven years younger than the XL Center. But the owners of the Calgary Flames have suddenly turned against the structure, claiming it is old and obsolete. What is being proposed is a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project called “Calgary Next”. This project is so controversial that nobody can give an accurate cost figure. The gung-ho builders claim it costs $890 million. The “realists” say the actual cost will be near $2 billion.

The pouty Flames ownership has thrown an “or else” tantrum if they do not get their way, threatening to leave Calgary for fairer pastures. And of course NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who loves new arenas, especially the new ones in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Edmonton, flew into Calgary earlier this year (on his new arena tour that included new arena pleas in Phoenix and Ottawa) urging the municipal Calgary government to accept “Calgary Next”.

The Flames ownership has never publicly stated what is specifically wrong with the 34 year old Saddledome. If they laid out their exact grievances, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be done. But like all North American professional sports franchise owners in this day and age, they expect the local taxpayers to pay for a new facility to which they will contribute exactly 0 to build.

Well if a 34 year old arena with new renovations is unacceptable to a sports franchise owner and the NHL and its Commissioner, how is the NHL supposed to accept a renovated 41 year old XL Center? The NHL has not uttered one official comment about the proposed renovation of the XL Center. Clearly by their open letter to the New York Islanders owners, the Governor and the Mayor expect to get the Whalers back in return for spending $250 million.

But the city and the state should hold back. Much as I’d like to see a returned Hartford Whalers, and Gary Bettman said that the Whalers would be welcomed back in 2010 if they met his conditions about the fan base, the arena and a suitable owner, based on the situation in Calgary and elsewhere, there is no guarantee that the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center. The Hartford taxpayers could be spending $250 million for nothing.

When Jim Balsille tried to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, the city offered to spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum – in vain. And it has to be said that when Copps Coliseum was built during the 1980s, it was built with the specific intention of getting an NHL franchise. The people of Hamilton are still waiting.

It has been estimated that building a new arena in Hartford would cost in excess of $500 million. That’s double the cost of the offered $250 million. Quebec built its new Videotron arena for $375 million. If the cost of a new Hartford arena could be kept at that level, I would be 100% in favor of building a brand new arena. $500 million, double the cost of renovating the XL Center, makes me think twice.

Moreover I would also be thinking of the NFL as well. That league just recently stripped the city of St. Louis, which built a perfectly acceptable modern stadium, approximately a mere two decades ago of its franchise and shifted the Rams back to Los Angeles which finally caved in and built a suitable stadium, for the unspoken reason that Los Angeles is a bigger market where they can make more money. Then they told St. Louis to build another stadium. So much for fan loyalty, taxpayer money invested in a sports facility, local media investment, and local corporate investment. For added measure, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too.

What’s to stop another crybaby NHL owner, like the ones in Calgary for first accepting the Whalers and their renovated arena and then start complaining and threatening to leave because the arena, even though it has been upgraded, is 41 years old? If I’m a Connecticut taxpayer I would want a guarantee – in legal writing – from both the NHL and whoever wants to be the new Hartford owner that

a: Hartford is going to be guaranteed an NHL franchise by a specific date if the XL Center is renovated.

b: The new Whalers owner signs a legal document that the Whalers will be committed to Hartford for at least a fixed number of years before they can raise the issue of both a new arena and franchise shift.

The NHL made an unofficial commitment to Hartford in 2010 when Bettman made a tour of Hartford, Winnipeg, and Quebec and offered them terms for readmission. Winnipeg is already back, but Quebec, which built the Videotron that the NHL loves is stuck at the ownership factor. A returned Hartford with a proper arena and a suitable owner is a guaranteed money maker. The Whalers would renew their rivalry with Boston and other rivals in the New York area and the province of Quebec.

But unless the Mayor, Governor, and the taxpayers decide they want to build a new arena after all, they should pause and think this over before spending a single cent on renovating the XL Center. There are so many possible greedy and hidden pitfalls involved in this renovation that they may well be spending $250 million for nothing.